My weekly local paper always includes a police report which usually contains typical small town incidents—petty crime, disorderly teenagers, bounced checks, identity theft, and the like. But last week’s police report (The Barrington Times, March 15, 2017) contained a truly alarming incident.
Barrington Police charged a resident with a laundry list of serious charges: “domestic-felony assault, domestic-kidnapping, domestic-simple assault/battery, domestic-refuse/relinquish telephone, and use of a firearm while committing a crime of violence.”
The report said that the resident “had an AR-15 assault rifle and had threatened to do bodily harm against the female victim” who lived at the home and was able to escape. The female victim has taken out a restraining order against her alleged abuser.
I was stunned that this type of incident happened in my quiet Rhode Island town. And knowing what I know about Rhode Island’s weak gun laws, I was fearful for the well-being of the victim of these alleged crimes and her family.
Current Rhode Island law allows people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors to buy and possess guns. And there is significant evidence that women in domestic abuse situations are safer if their abusers do not have guns. In fact, the risk of homicide for a woman in a domestic abuse situation increases by five hundred percent when a gun is present.
And when it comes to people subject to domestic violence restraining orders, current Rhode Island law gives judges discretion over whether or not to prohibit them from possessing guns.
This discretion does not work. Research on Rhode Island domestic abuse restraining orders released in 2015 by Everytown for Gun Safety showed that even in cases where an abuser presented a firearms threat, courts only ordered abusers to turn in their guns in less than 13 percent of cases. As a consequence, 325 abusers here in RI who appeared to have access to firearms were not ordered to surrender them – even though that same research showed that most of them were already prohibited from possessing guns by federal law. This leaves victims living in constant fear that their abuser maybe be armed and dangerous.
That is unacceptable.
The good news is that important legislation that would help protect Rhode Island domestic abuse victims has been introduced in the General Assembly. Representative Teresa Tanzi (Democrat, District 34, Narragansett, South Kingstown) and Senator Harold Metts (Democrat, District 6, Providence) have introduced bills H5510/S405 which would make sure that dangerous domestic abusers are ordered to turn their guns in for as long as they can’t legally have them.
The bill would bring Rhode Island law in line with federal law by prohibiting gun possession by abusers convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors. The bill would also bring Rhode Island law in line with federal law and that of 25 other states by prohibiting gun possession for domestic abusers that are subject to final domestic abuse protective orders. Finally, the bill would require all prohibited domestic abusers to turn in guns they already own.
Fifteen states—including Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York—have already enacted legislation like this to protect victims of domestic abuse. Given the overwhelming evidence that victims are safer if their abusers don’t have guns, our state is failing. According to the latest report by Rhode Island Coalition of Domestic Violence, between 2006 and 2015, there were 54 domestic violence homicides in Rhode Island. The same report also found that guns were the weapon of choice for deadly abuse: more victims of intimate partner homicide were killed with guns than any other means and firearms were used in all incidents that involved multiple victims.
Rhode Island can and should enact stronger laws to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. Please contact your elected officials and ask them to support H5510/S405 to protect Rhode Island’s most vulnerable residents: women, families, and children.